[Picture a teen in a white tee soaring high above blocks of taxis, hood to hood, an ocean of traffic, on his skateboard in New York City. (Painted on The New Yorker’s cover August 3, 2015.)] Now, entertain the notion that your imagined, personal and professional networking options often fall into scenarios about the “correct, perfect and only way” to network. Not realizing this fantasy of truly connecting is but one of a variety of successful approaches and that just thinking about this “correct, perfect and only way,” contributes to your downfall in this extremely important department.
Perhaps we should define these popular assumptions about how one aligns their deeper values and sweat equity with the broader community, just to make sure we’re on the same page. The common expectation is that one must “work the room” at a dizzying pace as you dazzle all there, leaving them breathless your card in every one’s hand. Accomplished with total and complete confidence in one’s ability to discuss relevant career/market goals; revealing strengths, attributes, education and training in a most engaging manner. Express no doubt over how to explain a delicate lay off or other out of work situation and exude total calm and assurance over one’s appearance. A little over done isn’t it? Unfortunately a lot of people think that this is what’s required and if they’re not up for it, they might as well stay home less they disgrace themselves, and ruin their chances.
I’d like to wager that if you could set this social conditioning of mythical proportions aside, you’d be able to see an extraordinary number of new ways to network for business and professional development that will allow you to connect to a degree you never thought possible before. It’s the beginning of the end of your overwhelm about reaching out and finding folks that could very well turn out to be tremendous help and in the end, great friends.
Remember, your brain is like the brain of someone dating a person who drives a red truck and sees red trucks everywhere. If you’ve done your homework and defined what matters to you, it helps a lot. It’s called “career happenstance” by my career counseling colleagues and literally means that when we are clear about our higher interests and objectives, people happen to come out of no where to meet us. Hopefully we are ready to respond!
Universal code and magic aside, my advice to you after counseling tens of thousands of people through the roadblock to reaching out career wise includes:
- Start slow; shake off the pressure to make instant connections. Imagine you’re a plane on a long runway with a couple of hairpin turns before takeoff. No worries, you’re moving.
- Spend meaningful time researching and reflecting on known and potential contacts in the worlds you’d like to explore. Make a list of friends, acquaintances, long lost co-workers and ex-bosses. Consider college advisors, possible new mentors and peers, who can be quite validating.
- Identify your questions and prepare to present your quest. Practice introducing your self, background, strengths and current burning questions. Include verbalizing your interest and appreciation of your contact’s work life. Ideally you’ve had a chance to research them ahead of time.
- Have an updated resume and business cards handy.
- Concentrate on connecting and reconnecting with folks who you share or possibly share your values, interests and core objectives, people who could validate and help move you forward with meaningful information and encouragement.
- Utilize the informational interview when feasible. One on one opportunities are the best.
- Remember it’s repeat contact that creates an impression and the motivation for someone to take up your cause. You may need to attend a few events before finding your people. Once you’ve targeted the groups that best match your vocational interests, find ways to circle back at on-going professional gatherings, conferences, volunteer opportunities, or through email updates about your journey. Follow up one on one when you feel a spark of curiousness with tea or a brew.
- Make it real. Enthusiasm is best communicated when felt and genuine. Authentic connections are the ones we remember and want to develop.
- Be open about your project. When running into people you haven’t seen in a while and they ask how you’re doing, tell them your search story. Politely ask them if they know anyone who might be able to help out. Then let them know how it goes.
- Every personal and professional contact you make is a possible resource; people want to help if they can. Give your conversations, from the grocery store line to the meet up group, a chance to lead you to understand how this relationship could be of mutual benefit. Stay in touch if it is.
Leap over your barrier to networking because you care. You care about this subject you are networking for, you care to contribute to making a better world. You care about your life meaning something important. So dispense with the notion of instant fixes and build a solid base for the whole of your working life, one valuable collegial relationship at a time.
Originally posted on Career Transition: The Inside Job